Feathers ruffled in birds of prey row

ALLEGATIONS that a birds of prey reintroduction scheme has been “annihilating” other species have been angrily refuted.

The Scottish Gamekeepers Asso­ciation (SGA) has said it wants “the government to explore the impacts of a red kite reintroduction” project. The SGA alleges that a number of other species have seen their numbers damaged severely since the raptors were brought back to Galloway.

But Chris Rollie, the RSPB’s area manager for the region, vociferously denied the claims.

A report on the SGA’s website says: “Around 90 red kites were reintroduced in Dumfries and Galloway between 2001 and 2003 in a project funded by the RSPB, SNH, Forest Enterprise and Galloway Raptor Study group.

“Now the local population has expanded to almost 300 and land-users are reporting significant losses to other birds such as red-listed lapwing, oystercatchers and sand martins.

“The kites are artificially fed poultry chicks at a local farm but landowners say the food is insufficient, with waders and songbirds paying the price for the kites’ hunger.

“Many feel the scavenging birds of prey should be allowed to disperse naturally, in line with the project’s aim, rather than being drawn back to a feeding station.”

However, Mr Rollie responded angrily to the claims. He said: “We have never denied that kites can and do kill small prey, especially when they are feeding their own young, but they are largely carrion feeders. This is widely established and recognised throughout their range, not just by the RSPB, but in a wealth of scientific studies and literature. Live prey is limited to invertebrates and other small creatures, including nestlings or recently fledged and inexperienced young birds but kites are most unlikely to be a threat to them at population level through predation.

“Kites are the weakest and least aggressive of our raptors. They are not a significant threat to pheasant poults, although this year they have benefited from the carrion of very many dead poults and other young birds that have perished in the awful weather.

“We accept that not everyone likes birds of prey and resentment and prejudice towards them is very long-standing among some people. We do hope that other people will realise this and accept that kites are not a significant threat to anyone’s livelihood, and indeed have brought a significant economic income to the area through the Galloway Kite Trail.

“The red kites are dispersing and now breed as far west as near Carsluith and as far east as Thornhill in Nithsdale. There is plenty of food in the countryside for them.”